"The problem is: We routinely overestimate the importance of acquiring resources but even more significantly, underestimate our ability to make more out of those we have."
In Stretch: Unlock the Power of Less — and Achieve More Than You Ever Imagined, Scott Sonenshein argues that there’s more to the “stretch” philosophy than simply being resourceful: it’s both a mindset and a skill set.
The mindset of a stretcher encourages us to appreciate what we already have, and in many cases find new productive uses for what we have, rather than always being on the lookout for more resources.
Sonenshein provides academic research, as well as organizational and personal examples to show the benefits of using our existing resources in new and unusual ways, rather than always chasing more resources. Contrary to what many of us believe, constraints can motivate us to be more resourceful and encourage us to be more creative and find better solutions to problems.
The Big Idea
Engineering or Bricolage?
"he engineering approach … involves searching for a specific tool. The bricolage approach …makes effective use of the tools around, experimenting and testing the conventional limitations of what’s at hand."
Sonenshein quotes French anthropologist, Claude Levi-Strauss, in making the comparison between engineers who spend time and effort looking for the ‘perfect’ tool, and bricoleurs, who make the most of what they have. Engineers (and many facilitators) love to have toolboxes full of the latest tools and techniques, while bricoleurs love to fix problems with whatever they have at hand.
One of the main benefits of the bricolage approach, according to Sonenshein, is “a more enjoyable life because it calms us with what we already have and teaches us to use what we have in better ways.”
The message is to choose to bricolage, if not always, at least for a greater proportion of your time.
The Perils of Planning
"Planning serves us well when the future is predictable, but it also leads us astray at times. By shifting to acting and becoming better observers of our surroundings, we develop skills to improvise with what we have at hand."
Sonenshein discusses the benefits of planning, and some of the pitfalls—especially our tendency to make questionable assumptions and then rely on them as if they were fact. He encourages us to focus more on the present and to act, and then gather real-time information about our performance, rather than spending more time imagining the future.
Sonenshein also describes the differences in our mental regulatory modes. This psychological theory compares those of us who use a planning (or assessment) mode to achieve goals, versus those of us who use an acting (locomotion) mode. In acting mode, we are most concerned about getting a result, whereas in planning mode, we are concerned about getting the ‘right’ result. Over-reliance on the planning mode can stifle action if we become focused creating the ‘perfect plan’, instead of creating an adequate one.
Research indicates that we can use some deceptively simple questions to change our regulatory mode:
Name something you need to do, and note how likely you are to act on it tomorrow. Then write down examples of a time when:
- You compared yourself with other people
- You thought about your positive and negative characteristics
- You critiqued work done by others or yourself
When you are finished writing out your answers, summarize how you feel—positive, neutral or negative? More or less likely to act?
Then ask yourself to write examples of a time when:
- You acted like a ‘doer’
- You finished one project and didn’t wait long before you started a new one
- You decided to do something and you couldn’t wait to get started
Summarize how you feel—positive, neutral or negative? More or less likely to take action?
Ideally, your feelings and the likelihood of action went up a bit when you asked the second set of questions.
If you are a bit of a procrastinator or perfectionist, ask yourself the second set of questions repeatedly for a few weeks and keep the answers visible—and then take some small action towards a desired goal, whether you feel ready or not.
Are You Frugal, or Just Cheap?
"Frugal people take pleasure in saving and cheap people feel pained by spending."
I was intrigued to read about the very different emotional responses of those who are frugal compared to those who are cheap. As someone who once realized that I call everything over $100 “expensive,” I have tended to err on the ‘cheap’ side—and then regretted it, especially when cheap products fall apart. Instead of asking “what’s the cheapest way to do this?”, a better question might be, “how can I spend my money wisely and get the best [value] from my purchase?”
Another reframing question, which I already use is: “Yes, I know I want this but do I really need this? What do I already have that I could get some more use out of first?”
A harder and even more valuable question is to ask: “What am I not spending money on now, that if I did, would save me money in the future?” A personal example is going to the chiropractor monthly. I’ve learned from bitter experience that if I leave it until I have an injury, it usually requires 3-4 visits, but if I visit my Chiro monthly, then I don’t seem to have these acute injuries and thus it costs less over a year.
The main messages of this book—whether you want a better life or a better business—rest on one critical condition: you must act. To assist in acting, Sonenshein provides a dozen exercises at the back of the book to strengthen our ‘stretch’ muscles.
I’ve road tested several them and here are 3 suggestions, to get you started:
Just say no—challenge yourself to say: “No, I don’t need anything more, I can start this project with what I currently have.”
For example, I was approaching the deadline for this summary, and said to myself, “No, I don’t need to read the whole book before I start writing. I can choose the insights from the content I’ve already read.”
Go explore—dedicate an hour or a couple of hours a week to read about something new, watch something outside your comfort zone, or talk to someone you wouldn’t normally talk to.
For example, I want to connect with more geeks, especially those who are doing 3D printing, so I’ve found a 3D Printers Meetup Group. There are Meetup Groups for lots of interesting and different topics.
Break it down—take a resource you currently have and ask: 1) can it be broken down further into a smaller building blocks, and 2) does the smaller part imply a new or different use?
For example, this book has been a useful resource, and by using the Actionable summary format, I can break it down into a few key insights—these pieces comprise the summary, and can be used when I’m blogging, podcasting, or tweeting.
I challenge you to take one idea from this summary, and put it into action. You might be surprised by how far you can stretch.